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Pakistan agriculture needs a change of culture

Agricultural sector plays a strategic role in economic development of a country. Better agricultural output and productivity contributes substantially to an overall economic development. In short agriculture is the backbone of an economy which provides bread to mankind and raw material to industries. In Pakistan agriculture contributes about 20 percent to GDP and a brute majority to employment. Agriculture sector recorded a growth of 3.46 percent in fiscal year 2017 as compared to the growth of 0.27 in the preceding year despite the conservative method of production so the growth rate is not all that bad. But then today’s global village is looking for agricultural revolution to meet the multiple societal expectations in terms of sustainable development on food security and nutrition, economic growth, poverty reduction, employment generation, and social and environmental sustainability. So the time has come for Pakistan to take measures to develop agriculture sector on modern lines and not to restrict to selection of seeds, fertilizer and crop protection only. But then modern farming techniques cannot be adopted unless farmers are paid their due share in time. The problem is that the farmer is, in fact, left with not enough money to purchase high quality seeds, better pesticides, advanced technology and as such this vicious circle goes on.

Agricultural credit is of course one of the solutions to the problem of availability of funds to modernize the agriculture sector in Pakistan. A lot is also being done to facilitate the farmers but lack of education, not enough publicity and cumbersome process of disbursement of loan are main hurdles in the proper and timely payment of loan. Though Zarai Taraqiati Bank is playing an effective role in the promotion of economic growth, by improving the loan distribution system to the agriculturists, through special lending programs, technical assistance, and other products and services, the benefit goes to the influential land owners and not the actual farmers. The loans received by them, in most of the cases, are not spent to improve farming. Thus there is a need to ensure proper utilization of loan.

It is discouraging to note that though the agriculture sector is still the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy its share in country’s total output and its capacity to drive growth and development are registering a downward trend. As a result, according to the report titled ‘Agriculture and the Rural Economy in Pakistan: Issues, Outlooks, and Policy Priorities’, agriculture is no more the biggest sector of Pakistan’s economy today, however, it remains a major source of income for the country’s rural poor and an important driver of the rural non-farm economy where there is untapped potential for pro-poor growth.

The best part of this particular sector is definitely Pakistan irrigation system, which is one of the largest systems in the world. Pakistan irrigation system runs through whole Pakistan. Irrigation system is necessary for productive crop growing to establish sustainable growth. About three fourth of the land is cultivated under this largest canal system. Canal system is a substitute for the shortage of rainfall. But again influential feudal lords divert water to their lands and are illegally sucking canal water through unfair usage of lift machines. Unfortunately this illicit practice is happening under patronage of irrigation authorities. Since the farmers are not getting the direct and timely benefit of the irrigation system the desired result cannot be achieved. There is therefore, a need from the government to ensure the judicial distribution of water. The economist Dr Ashfaque Hassan rightly argued that agriculture was no longer the largest sector of Pakistan’s economy today. Its falling growth indicates that this sector is not on the radar of the government. There is a need to introduce latest agricultural technologies in Pakistan. It goes without saying that despite small landholding and low income levels, introduction of modern technologies can make a significant difference in per acre yield and living standard of farmers.

In this perspective, farmers and government authorities should look forward to adopt new and sustainable technologies to increase the efficiency of available resources and reducing the inputs costs. Pakistan’s unfavorable condition can be changed into favorable with a vibrant policy and ensuring that the farmers are getting the incentives and benefits provided to them by the government. On the other hand the farmers need a little effort and attention of the government to get awareness about the latest farming system so that agriculture may play an important role in the economics of our country. If our government takes decisions to make new policies or amendments in present policies, agriculture in Pakistan can take the economy of Pakistan to new height.

There is encouraging news also. The World Bank has approved $300 million to modernize agriculture in Punjab province, enabling Pakistan to raise farmers’ incomes, give consumers better quality and safer food at lower prices, create jobs on farms and agribusinesses, and improve the use of irrigation water. It addresses the paradox that while Punjab’s farmers earn too little, people pay high prices for low quality food. This situation is largely the result of farm policies that have hardly changed in the last 50 years. These include extensive subsidies that are inefficient and ineffective, and government spending that does not provide widespread benefits and results in wasteful water use.

It is pertinent to mention here that climate change is a serious threat to the security and prosperity of Pakistan’s agriculture. The country is more exposed to the impacts of climate change because of its geography.

According to a recently published index, Pakistan was ranked number 12 on the list of countries most likely to be affected by impacts of climate change. Punjab is experiencing high and low temperatures, high and low rainfall with clear symptoms of climate shift. Consequently, sowing and harvesting season of many important crops has been disturbed, harvesting and post harvesting losses have been increased and there has been a delay in sowing of crops. Last year, sudden fall in cotton production is a peculiar example of impact of climate change wherein, high temperatures at early stage of the crop lured sucking pest attack and afterwards, intermittent and heavy rainfalls impacted the overall production. We are working to build evasion, tolerance and resistance to the impact of climate change through various interventions like breeding for inoculation of desired characteristics through indigenous and imported means and changes in agro management techniques to adopt and move towards the climate smart agriculture.

Briefly speaking Pakistan is one of the world’s largest producers of raw cotton and a major rice exporter. Tobacco is grown mainly in the North-West Frontier Province and Punjab and is an important cash crop. On the other hand Pakistan’s fishing industry is relatively modest, but has shown strong growth in recent years. Livestock accounts for 40 percent of the agricultural sector and 9 percent of the total GDP. Forests cover an area of 4.2 million hectares or about 5 percent of the total area of Pakistan. The principal forest products are timber, principally for house construction, furniture, and firewood. Many of the country’s wooded areas are severely depleted as a result of over-exploitation.

The challenge, however, remains how to reach smallholders on a large scale, to engage the private sector and to ensure that the investments are transformative. According to a report, “For this, a realistic rural development approach is needed, including access to concessional credit and markets for smallholders, creation of value-addition and incomes from activities in which women in agriculture are involved, and basic infrastructure such as electricity and drinkable water to poor rural areas of the country.”

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